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Sen. Kay Hagan reassures Asheville-area growers on Food Safety Modernization Act
Thursday, September 9, 2010
It's getting down to crunch time for the Food Safety Modernization Act, which could adversely affect farmers in Western North Carolina with onerous paperwork and thousands of dollars in added expenses.
With that in mind, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., came to the French Broad Food Co-op tailgate market Wednesday to assure farmers she's still working on an amendment to the act that would provide some exemptions and protections for small farms.
"I want to be sure that some of the burdensome paperwork that the large industrial farms need to have put in place won't affect these small farmers," Hagan said during a brief news conference. "A lot of the provisions in the bill are traceability mechanisms, and I think if you buy locally, you ultimately know who the grower and the producer is."
The amendment, which Hagan is co-sponsoring with Sen. Jon Tester, D- Montana, would exempt facilities with gross incomes of less than $500,000 from some of the act's performance and record-keeping requirements.
It also would exempt small producers that primarily sell directly to restaurants and consumers from some of the proposed regulations.
Owners of small farms were especially concerned about a possible $500 annual government registration fee and mandated inspections that could run $95 an hour. Some farmers said earlier this summer that the act, without the amendment's exceptions, could cost them $5,000 to $10,000 in extra compliance expenses.
Asked if she was confident the amendment would make it into the final act, Hagan said, "I feel very good about that at this point, but it's something that we're certainly working on."
Nicole DelCogliano, market manager at the tailgate market, said it's unrealistic to put small, independent growers on the same plane as giant food producers. She also said Hagan's work on the amendment is vital.
"Without it, it would be devastating," she said.
Annie Perkinson, of Flying Cloud Farm in Fairview, said she was impressed that Hagan came to Asheville and the market to reassure growers.
"I think her coming here and doing this is a really good sign - that she's really supportive and she's really serious about doing something," Perkinson said. "Most of us are direct marketers, not wholesalers, so we're dealing directly with our customers. She seemed to really get that."
Harry Hamil, the owner of the Black Mountain Farmers Market and a close follower of agricultural legislation, put it this way: "I know if she hadn't gotten on this, we'd be dead meat." He expects action on the act to come to a head late next week.
Hagan was less popular with a group of about a dozen mostly Hispanic protesters holding signs questioning her position on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act.
Under the proposed act, which has not moved through Congress, qualifying undocumented youths would be eligible for a six-year-long conditional path to citizenship requiring completion of a college degree or two years of military service.
Hagan said she favors comprehensive immigration reform but opposes the DREAM Act.
"I think that in order to pass immigration reform ... we need to be sure our borders are secure, that people who come here have a legal path to citizenship," Hagan said. "I think all of that needs to be done in a comprehensive form; that's what I think would ultimately get passed through the U.S. Senate."
Hagan added that she's a realist, though, and doubts any immigration overhaul will get through Congress this year.